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Sick leave on the rise in councils as staff take two weeks off a year

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COUNCIL staff are taking more than two weeks' sick leave a year despite a supposed clampdown on absenteeism in the public sector.

A stark report shows the number of days lost through illness is on the rise, with employees taking an average of 12 days off a year – twice the private sector average.

And the effect that a series of budget cuts is having on front-line services can also be revealed today. There is more litter in towns and cities, thousands of empty houses cannot be let because there is no money to renovate them, while libraries have been forced to slash spending on new books.

The 'Service Indicators in Local Authorities' report, obtained by the Irish Independent, shows that services are suffering after €735m was cut from budgets since 2008.

But despite the deep financial pressure, councils are failing to collect outstanding bills.

The State's 34 local authorities are owed €555m in unpaid rates, housing rents, water charges and housing loans, but many rely on bank borrowings and overdrafts to make ends meet.

Pressure

The report shows an increase in the number of working days lost through illness, which puts huge pressure on workers forced to take up the slack.

In 2010, some 346,750 days were lost through absenteeism. This rose to 350,224 in 2011, the period covered by the report. There are concerns that some workers believe there is an entitlement to take sick days, as workers can take two days 'uncertified' leave where they do not have to get a doctor's note.

The increase comes despite a commitment to reduce sick leave being a key component of the Croke Park public sector pay deal.

The report, prepared for the Department of the Environment and which compares service delivery across all councils, shows that despite a commitment to tackle the problem, the number of days lost through illness has increased. It shows:

• Almost one in 20 working days (4.5pc) is lost through illness, or 12 days per year – twice the private sector average.

• The highest rate is in Waterford County Council, with 15.5 days. In 2010, it was one of the best-performing councils.

• There has been increases in 19 authorities, improvements in 11 and no change in four.

• The lowest absenteeism rates are in Clare and Wicklow with 9.5 days each – the second year in a row they are the best-performing.

• 40 staff members in Kildare took 2,250 days off in 2011 – an average of 56 each.

Waterford County Council said many of the sick days were unpaid, and that a number of employees absent on long-term sick leave had since retired.

The report also shows improvements in some services, including an increase in the number of recycling centres to dispose of glass, cans and textiles, and quicker response times to fires, which rose to 41.5pc being attended within 10 minutes from 37.5pc in 2009. An average of 134km of roads were improved in each county, compared with 118km in 2010.

Irish Independent